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New Balance funding launches BU varsity lacrosse program

Although the Boston University men’s lacrosse team has only played three games in its franchise history, talks of introducing the team to the university began prior to the start of the decade, said Director of Athletics Mike Lynch.

“It was a discussion that was going on at the highest levels of the university, probably as early as five years ago,” Lynch said.

In February 2012 when the university announced its plan to construct New Balance Field, the eventual addition of the lacrosse team was revealed as well.

Lynch said the addition of a new athletic facility was a compulsory step toward accommodating a new team.

“Without adding a new facility on campus, we really would not have been able to add the [lacrosse] team,” Lynch said. “New Balance Field really opened up an opportunity to bring back field hockey onto campus, and it opened up a lot more space on Nickerson field for practice time for lacrosse.”

The construction of New Balance Field began May 17, 2012. By Aug. 31, 2013 the field was complete and ready for the field hockey team to play its home opener on new turf.

New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc., which is headquartered in Brighton, pledged a $3 million naming grant to BU as aid in the field’s construction.

The introduction of the field has also allowed for the diffusion of sports across a greater number of facilities at the intramural, club and varsity level.

“Having our club sports who need fields not only be able to practice on campus, but be able to host home games/matches and tournaments is a major plus,” said intramural and club sports manager Scott Nalette in an email. “It is not only more convenient for them, but it is safer, more affordable and allows them to feel more a part of the campus community.”

Lynch said New Balance Field was just one of many procedural developments the athletic department had to undergo in the process of establishing the lacrosse program.

“You have to understand the type of budget you’re going to have to build, and understand the staffing requirements,” he said. “We certainly wanted to have the same type of staff for our program that you have in some of the best programs in the country.”

BU announced its decision to select Ryan Polley as the team’s first head coach June 20, 2012. A graduate of Merrimack College, Polley previously served as his alma mater’s head coach, as well as Yale University’s defensive coordinator.

Polley said he had an idea of how to formulate a lacrosse team at the time he was chosen as the head coach.

“When I first got the job I had an idea of what I wanted to establish in all facets of the program,” Polley said, “from the kind of kids we wanted to recruit and student-athletes we wanted to bring in, to how we wanted to run practice, to the type of schedule we wanted to play.”

The first step to developing a team, Polley said, was putting together a coaching staff. The process that led to his choosing assistant coach Drew Kelleher was lengthy.

“The first step was to open the [assistant coach] position to the university, and then there was quite a bit of interest,” Polley said. “Boston is not only a great place to go to school, but a great place to live.”

After the open assistant position was made public, about 50 or 60 applicants entered the running, Polley said.

“I met with maybe 10 or so, and then decided on coach Kelleher,” he said. “He had a lot of really good experience — He was a young, hungry coach … I hired him about a month after I was hired.”

Once Kelleher was on board, the duo moved on to recruiting players. Starting from scratch with a constrained timeframe, Polley and Kelleher were forced to exhaust their connections from past coaching tenures.

“A lot of Division I programs had already completed their 2013 class and had their guys selected,” Polley said, “so we had to beat every bush and find a couple diamonds in the rough.”

Polley said his priority for recruitment was ensuring that his prospective student-athletes fit BU’s academic profile before selling them the university as a whole, and then the lacrosse program individually.

Compiling funds to support a new field, coaching staff, and other aspects of a new team is done largely through fundraising, Lynch said.

“For every team that we have at BU, we fundraise,” he said. “Certainly to start a team like lacrosse, or start any program really, we’re looking to try and develop some commitments from our alumni population to help us to build it.”

Lynch said the response from the BU community and alumni population has been positive thus far, and that the program will continue to look for contributions to put toward scholarship money.

One group at BU that has been speculative of certain aspects of the lacrosse team’s inception is the wrestling community.

Art Donahoe, a wrestling team alumnus, is one of the administrators of the Facebook page “Boycott New Balance.” The page seeks to unite members of the community in investigating New Balance’s alleged involvement in the removal of the wrestling team.

Donahoe, also a graduate of the College of General Studies and School of Education, said those who wish to preserve the wrestling team do not oppose the presence of the lacrosse team, but rather wish to work toward a scenario in which all parties can thrive.

“What we are hoping to do is use New Balance’s influence with the university to get us into a sit-down situation,” Donahoe said, “which would include New Balance, the university, and alumni and parent representatives of wrestling, and we would like to work out a solution that is a win-win-win for everybody.”

Lynch said accusations of unfairness toward the wrestling team are not founded upon factual information.

“The university has been nothing but up-front with every decision we’ve made,” he said, “and a number of the stories that are floating around on social media have absolutely no basis.”

The athletic department believes it will be able to improve BU’s overall image by incorporating a sport such as lacrosse, which has a growing presence in the media and significant popularity in New England.

“We saw there was a lot of growth in lacrosse, certainly at the high school level, but at the college level as well,” Lynch said. “Television coverage was starting to expand at the time we were looking at it, and we feel like it’s an opportunity for us to improve upon the brand recognition of Boston University.”

Lynch said the athletic department is confident the lacrosse team can become nationally competitive in the future.

Although the 2014 season has had a less than ideal start, its schedule guarantees the team recognition and its players a challenge. BU plays in the competitive Patriot League and will face some difficult nonconference opponents.

“This year we’re bringing [defending NCAA champion] Duke [University] up,” Lynch said. “We play them the last game of the year here just as a way to expose our athletes to the very best in that sport.”


  1. In 2012 Mike Lynch told the coaches of BU’s other sports programs that the addition of Men’s LAX would not require the University to drop any other sports. The decision to drop wrestling was made shortly following that statement and an $800k bequest for BU Wrestling by an alum was lost forever. A quick internet search will show countless articles establishing the facts tying the two decisions together.

    Deny it all you want Mr. Lynch, the facts speak for themselves and those facts consist of much more than “a number of stories that are floating around on social media.”

    Gregory T. Casamento, CGS ’90, SMG ’92, Law ’96


  2. I wish the best for the lacrosse team but it was frustrating to read this article in the Daily Free Press because it is certainly not true that “The university has been nothing but up-front with every decision we’ve made.” The decision to drop wrestling was made behind closed doors without any input from Coach Adams, alumni, parents, student athletes, or anyone with any background in the sport of wrestling. Alumni were denied the opportunity to even speak to the BU Trustees on behalf of the wrestling program.

    Even the title of the article runs contrary to official statements that New Balance money has nothing to do with the athletic programming decisions at BU.

    The statement, “a number of the stories that are floating around on social media have absolutely no basis” is a bit vague. Would AD Lynch please specify the stories he is referencing? Perhaps I could then provide the factual basis for the stories in question.

  3. It is disturbing to see how the current administrators of my alma mater mislead the BU community when they are questioned about their motives for dropping an athletic program. Every student, parent, coach and faculty member should be very concerned about an administration that is allowed to be so biased against certain programs and make important decisions with false and incorrect information and without the input of those directly impacted. They are moving the university farther and farther from its stated mission and pushing aside anyone that gets in their way. As others have stated in their comments, the facts about the decision to drop wrestling and add lacrosse and women’s lightweight rowing do not align with the propaganda put out by the administration.

    Chris Studer, SED ’93


  4. I would also add that current and potential donors to BU should be very concerned about the lack of transparency and honesty with this administration. BU accepted a large donation from the estate of a former wrestling coach knowing full well that discussions about dropping wrestling and adding lacrosse had already taken place. What donor wants to make a donation to an organization that willfully misleads its donors?

  5. So Orin Smiley’s dying wish was to leave his estate to his old College wrestling team. A team that he not only wrestled for but went on to coach. These endowments were designed to help fund future operating budgets and provide more scholarships to its wrestlers. A couple of years later and shortly after Orin passes away, the school decides to sell naming rights of a soon to be constructed facility to New Balance in exchange for $3MM. New Balance also was able to negotiate a Mens’ Lacrosse team and a lucrative equipment contract. In order to address the gender inequality issue that arose from adding a men’s lacrosse team, BU decided to drop wrestling instead of adding a women’s sport that every other Patriot League has except for BU, Women’s volleyball. By dropping wrestling BU also lost 2 endowments and the chance to reach out to its 500 wrestling alumni for any future donations. With over 20 NCAA programs at BU, Wrestling was only one of three sports that had more than one endowment. What does that tell future donors? What are you telling women who are fighting for progress and equality when instead of adding a women’s team to the athletic program to balance out the inequality, you rather drop a team that’s been around for almost 60 years?

    “The university has been nothing but up-front with every decision we’ve made,”? I’ve lost track of all of Lynch’s lies and contradictions but for the record again, Lynch never spoke to a single Alumni, Parent, Athlete or coach before dropping the program. He has continued to provide the board of trustees with false information to promote his agenda. What is even more troubling is that by dropping a team so suddenly and without any discussion, planning or warning, you now have an athletic department full of coaches nervous about their own future. Especially when the team dropped is coached by a well respected man like Carl Adams, currently ranked 4th in winningest coaches in NCAA History. A coach that never received a negative performance review in his entire 33 years at the school and continued to practice in an outdated practice facility over 4 decades old. How secure should other BU coaches feel when this can happen to one of their peers without warning?

    Lynch and BU have underfunded and over promised the wrestling team for the past 3 decades. Now you state that you want “commitments from our alumni population” to fund the newly formed Lacrosse program, so that they can be on equal footing with any other team in the country? I applaud the vision and commitment but where was that commitment to the wrestling team over the past couple decades. Where was that commitment when the team was promised a new facility after practicing in a room the size of a yoga studio? Where was that Gusto for the program with a history over half a century long and 500 alumni?

    Several days after receiving the news about our program being dropped, I called Orin Smileys widow and was surprised to hear that she had not been notified or informed of the news. She was devastated and kept referring to her husbands dying wish not being honored and how disappointed he would have been to hear such news. Marilyn Smiley now has to spend her own money to hire a lawyer and potentially be exposed to a huge tax liability because BU decided that New Balance’s $3M was more important than than a dying man’s last wish to his old college team.

    If you donate to BU, be careful. They’ll wine and dine you and thank you at the signing but then go out and sell your legacy to the next highest bidder. Also be sure to leave some money behind for legal expenses that your estate will incur after BU changes the term of your donation after your passing. Whatever happened to Ethics at the leadership level? If Ethical practices had been followed, you would have notified the widow beforehand, had conversations with coaches and alumni and worked through this process with a level of transparency that a legacy program deserves and the University is so proud to claim as one of its founding principles.

    This is such a poor display of ethics and horrible lack of leadership, that I cannot trust any of my future donations to a school that treats it alumni’s, donors, coaches and athletes in this manner. I will continue to disseminate this story and to encourage all my fellow BU athletes and other Alumni’s that BU may not have our best interest at heart when estate planning is in question.

    If Lynch and his team would have done the necessary due diligence they would have figured out that adding a women’s volleyball team would have been the right decision instead of dropping men’s wrestling. New Balance gets to sell more equipment through their Brine Sports division (Win-NB), Women get more opportunity to compete at the Div. 1 level and BU becomes the last team in the patriot league to add Women’s Volleyball (Win-Women’s sports). Then Lynch would have been able to sit down with the wrestling team and figure out what the program needs to compete nationally and had been able to request assistance from all the alumni to help the program get there (Win-Men’s wrestling). The school would then benefit from more engaged alumni’s and more donations including more respect for doing the right thing and better representation in the Patriot League (Win-BU).

    The only transparency evident here is the total lack of strategic planning and leadership displayed by Lynch and his team in handling matters that every school confronts at some point.

  6. Please reconsider the decision to eliminate the wrestling program at BU. The entire wrestling community across the nation joined together to save Olympic Wrestling. Now the entire wrestling nation needs to once again join this fight to keep wrestling at BU.

  7. “Without adding a new facility on campus, we really would not have been able to add the [lacrosse] team,” Lynch said. “New Balance Field really opened up an opportunity to bring back field hockey onto campus, and it opened up a lot more space on Nickerson field for practice time for lacrosse.”

    I am not even sure how this statement makes any sense. Aside from lacking upfront business practices or common sense, where is the fact? So building a FIELD HOCKEY stadium opened up space for a club sport on Nickerson to become a Division I sport on Nickerson?! Is it really, that money from New Balance allowed Mike Lynch to bring in lacrosse and pick what sport he wanted to drop? Seems that way to me…otherwise, you wouldn’t sacrifice a program that neither uses outdoor facilities nor costs a significant amount of money for a program that requires more scholarships and more outdoor time. The statement just doesn’t hold weight unless it really means, “by taking money from New Balance we agreed to bring in lacrosse at any cost.”

    If you’ve ever been to a BU sporting event, you’ve seen wrestlers there…cheering on their fellow student-athletes. They are the type of men who would/will be there to cheer for lacrosse despite the raw deal their own administration hands them. Shame on Boston University, Shame on it’s athletic department, Shame on Mike Lynch. The administration seems to forget that the same people they are lying to are the same people who benefited from a BU education.

    Class of ’09, Donor of the class of ‘never again

  8. “For every team that we have at BU, we fundraise,” It is unfortunate that the wrestling team never experienced this from the BU athletic department.
    “It was a discussion that was going on at the highest levels of the university, probably as early as five years ago,” Lynch said. To think the AD would misrepresent himself and the university when accepting the generous endowment from Orin Smiley is absurd. This should have been discussed with Orin when he was establishing the endowment, which took significant time from BU and The Smiley family to work through the intricacies.
    The highest levels have indicated this was a decision made by the AD. The BU Trustees have been very dismissive to requests made by alumni. New Balance has the brand and money to get their attention, and I’m sure the “highest levels” presented the “five years” in the making plan when soliciting the donation and offering naming rights to the field.
    I think BU deserves a successful lacrosse program, however I also think the successful wrestling program deserves to remain at BU.
    My only satisfaction to all this was the choice of putting down the New Balance sneakers and purchasing a different brand. I will have many more opportunities to do so for myself and my kids.